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Senate Pushes Ahead With Health Bill Debate

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Members of the Senate today added a consumer information amendment to H.R. 3590, the Senate health bill, but they rejected a proposed amendment that would have required any Medicare program savings to be used to shore up Medicare.

The Senate was continuing to debate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., created the bill by melding health bills approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate Amendment 2939, which was offered by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., would require the government to collect and post data on enrollee satisfaction with the health plans to be sold be the proposed health insurance exchange system.

S.A. 2939 was approved 98-0.

Senate Amendment 2942, offered by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., sought to prevent “the implementation of new entitlements that would raid Medicare.” It would have required that the government use any savings resulting from implementing PPACA to offset PPACA spending increases and revenue reductions before starting new entitlement programs.

Senators voted 43-56 to defeat the Gregg amendment. No Republicans voted against S.A. 2942. The Democrats who voted for S.A. 2942 were Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and James Webb, D-Va.

“It seems to me that if you’re going to stand up for responsible action in the area of Medicare, if … you’re going to stand behind your word as the sense of the Senate’s have called for that Medicare money be used for Medicare and that Medicare money not be used to fund extraneous, things that are extraneous to Medicare…then you’ve got to vote for this amendment,” Gregg said in support of the amendment.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., argued that the Gregg amendment was a killer amendment. “It is designed to prevent health care reform from taking effect,” Baucus said. “If you don’t like making health insurance affordable, if you don’t like health care for the lowest income Americans, if you don’t like health care for kids, then the Gregg amendment is for you.”

Gregg later argued that Baucus and others in the senate could still create new entitlement programs, even if his amendment were adopted. What senate critics of the amendment “are saying is they don’t have the idea, the courage, or the will to pay for them other than by stealing from Medicare,” Gregg said. “Isn’t that what they’re saying?”

The Senate also started to debate Senate Amendment 2962, offered by Nelson of Nebraska, which resembles the “Stupak language” added to the House health bill, H.R. 3962. The Stupak language would prohibit any health programs created by the PPACA bill from paying for elective abortions.

“For more than three decades, taxpayers’ money has not been used for elective abortions, and it shouldn’t under any new health reform legislation either,” Nelson said. “Some suggest that the Stupak language imposes new restrictions on abortion. I disagree. We’re seeking to just apply the same standards on abortion to the Senate health care bill that already exists for many federal health programs. They include those covering veterans, all federal employees, Native Americans, and active-duty service members and others.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., spoke against the Nelson amendment, noting that it would affect health coverage that women buy with their own money.

“The men who have brought us this don’t single out a procedure that’s used by a man or a drug that is used by a man that involves his reproductive health say they have to get a special rider,” Boxer said. “There’s nothing in this amendment that says if a man some day wants to buy Viagra, for example, that his pharmaceutical coverage cannot cover it, that he has to buy a rider. I wouldn’t support that. And they shouldn’t support going after a woman using her own private funds for her reproductive health care.”

McCain spoke for a new motion to send H.R. 3590 to the Senate Finance Committee for a rewrite of Medicare Advantage provisions.

McCain reported on the Senate floor Friday that the current version of the PPACA bill would shield Medicare Advantage plans in South Florida, Oregon and the New York City area from some of the cuts facing Medicare Advantage plans elsewhere.

“Basically,” McCain said today, “what this amendment, or this motion, does is says that the same benefits that have been granted in the legislation to citizens in Florida would also apply to citizens who are enrollees in the Medicare Advantage program all over America. It’s pretty simple. Specifically, starting in 2012, this motion would accomplish a fix that allows all Medicare Advantage enrollees to maintain current levels of benefits on the date of enactment.”


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